Fans of the manual transmission love it for its mechanical efficiency. The manual transmission is economical on fuel. Accelerates effortlessly. And gives you total control of changing gears.
Drivers that prefer an automatic transmission often cite their being less restrictive and easier to use overall as the two big reasons why. Especially in areas where there’s heavy traffic. Or bound to be steep inclines.
But what if we took a little from Column A and mixed it with a little from Column B?
Imagine the mechanical performance and adaptability of a manual. But with the convenience of an automatic that always selects the right gear ratio.
Mechanical engineers have been trying for decades to develop the perfect transmission that can do both for drivers. And so far, it’s the continuously variable transmission (CVT) that’s come closest.
How is a CVT different to an ordinary automatic transmission?
A typical automatic transmission has a set number of speeds. Each speed is represented by a gear in the gearbox.
As the vehicle accelerates, an automatic transmission knows when to shift up through the gears. And does the gear change for you.
A CVT is unlike an automatic in that it has no gears at all. So, whilst it’s as easy to operate as an ordinary automatic (just slip it into “drive” and push down on the throttle), the CVT operates quite differently.
Unlike the gears in an ordinary automatic gearbox, a CVT is built around a system of two conical pulleys (the input and the output) plus a strong steel belt that takes drive from the engine.
The input pulley is turned by the engine. Which turns the steel belt. Which turns the output pulley that connects the wheels with the transmission.
As speeds fluctuate, so does the diameter of the two pulleys; producing an infinite number of gear ratios.
As the input and output cones move closer together, the steel belt is forced outward and upward just like a shifting gear.
But unlike physical gears that shift, the CTV’s steel belt glides smoothly over the input and output cones, and pulley ratios adjust automatically based on driving conditions, to achieve the effect of higher gearing in a smooth and completely unnoticeable way that ordinary automatics aren’t built to deliver.
How is a CVT different to a manual transmission?
The big difference between a CVT and manual transmissions is control. Each gear change is at the sole discretion of the driver, which is great for performance, but can also open itself to human error, over revving, bogging down or even stalling, if the wrong gear is chosen.
For some enthusiasts, a manual transmission makes driving more engaging. It lets you slip into a lower gear for that extra boost of power. Or react quickly to sudden changes in surface conditions.
Operating a manual transmission is much more involved than operating a CVT. And because of that, many drivers just looking for seamless power without shifting prefer the reliability and simplicity of a CVT.
Instead, a CVT adjusts to deliver the most efficient engine speed for the given situation and terrain. Without the driver having to think twice or lift a finger (or foot).
Is a CVT right for me?
If you spend a lot of time driving; are looking for the performance and efficiency of a manual with the comfort and effortless ride of an automatic. Then yes, a vehicle fitted with a CVT is right for you.
Improved Fuel Efficiency
Because CVTs keep acceleration at a “sweet spot” in the rev range, they’re also working to minimise the amount of power wasted. And less wasted power equals a more fuel efficient vehicle. Which makes it great for getting a few extra kilometres out of every tank. Special sensors inside the CVT help to balance changing engine shaft and driveshaft speed ratios to keep your engine inside an optimum range. And using the right amount of energy from spent fuel.
Fewer moving parts
Compared to manual transmissions or the ordinary automatic, CVTs are built from significantly fewer parts. And when there’s fewer parts required, the CVT itself becomes less expensive to manufacture. That’s an upfront savings that gets passed on to buyers directly as reflected in lower consumer selling prices for vehicles equipped with CVTs.
Lighter, Smaller Design
In addition to being built from fewer parts, a CVT is also much lighter and more compact compared to a manual or ordinary automatic. Without physical gears to weigh it down or take up unnecessary space, the CVT is especially perfect for more compact vehicles.
It’s simple. The more gears a car’s transmission offers, the better performance that car is going to deliver across the spectrum of driving conditions. Because CVTs literally offer an infinite number of available gear ratios, it means your transmission is optimised for an infinite number of driving scenarios.
Super Smooth Ride
Because CVTs don’t rely on the shifting of physical gears to achieve the effects of higher gearing, you’ll never feel your transmission working. Which is a good thing! Shifts are seamless and maintain a constant noise even as gearing increases and speeds begin to climb. So you get smoother operation all around. And quicker drive too.
Great For Heavy Loads
Steep inclines and hilly areas can require almost constant shifting with manual transmissions. And ordinary automatics sometimes struggle under the weight of a heavy load. But CVTs are able to instantly find the optimal ratio needed to provide exactly the power needed. Even as surface conditions and elevations change.
The “turning power” of your car is measured in torque. It’s the power output of an engine; the twisting power required to rotate an object. Because a CVT allows you to rev the engine almost immediately, it’s able to deliver maximum torque. And the more torque your engine is able to deliver, the faster you’ll be able to accelerate.
From increased fuel efficiency to smoother rides, plus a range of cost saving features and design elements, continuously variable transmissions are great for all different road conditions and driving scenarios. Not to mention vehicle types.
They’re a transmission alternative that let fans of the manual and ordinary automatics meet in the middle. To experience something altogether unique that combines the mechanical performance and adaptability of one with the comfort and conveniences of the other.